It’s not often that editions of Vogue cause controversy, least of all September issues, which have been vividly celebrated in recent months in a documentary starring fashion’s infamous first lady. Nevertheless, it’s almost that time of the year again, and the publication is in the spotlight once again, thanks to its Italian siblings, who have created a provocative spread for its September issue, entitled “Water & Oil”, using the Gulf of Mexico as a backdrop.
Once upon a time, this would have been considered a picturesque setup, with subtropical climates, vast ocean life and the warmth of southern hospitality all there to greet an ambitious photographer. But in the end, in this time, the outing has been met with hostility, as inquiring minds clamber to understand how the fashion industry could glamorize such a disaster.
Since the explosion in April, around 5 million barrels of oil have leaked into the ocean. And while the leak has now been capped, the spill caused severe damage to the fishing trade, marine habitats and to wildlife.
Vogue Italia’s shoot, by acclaimed photographer Steven Meisel, has understandably, yet surprising made its own waves. The 24-page spread sees models coughing up oil, sitting in the thick of it with oily faces and lying limply on rocks, in the same way seals and turtles laid lifelessly in the wake of April’s event.
While there’s no disputing the powerfulness of these images – they’re immaculately composed, thought-provoking and darkly sensual – it’s left fashion enthusiasts divided. In an attempt to depict the struggle for survival, was it necessary for Meisel to use such a stage? My answer is no. Of course not. But he knew this. Recreating the same scene on a set in a lit room wouldn’t have been half as exhilarating or controversial. Even if one’s artistic expression is pulling him/her to the deep south, there’s always a way around things if you want to circumvent them. If Meisel had chosen an alternative route, I wouldn’t be writing this. It’s just another roll of the dice in the publicity game. In addition, the American is no stranger to the headlines, having previously been at the helm of other provocative shoots for the Italian publication (“State of Emergency and “Rehab”), thus, “Water & Oil” is all in a day’s work for the resident snapper, who knew that the two wouldn’t mix.
We’ll have to wait to see what consumers make of Vogue Italia’s latest play, but I'm certainly curious. After all, consumers and Vogue usually go together like, well, fish and water.